Eventually, having kids close in age gets easier — and even convenient.
I remember looking in my rear view mirror at the three kids, ages 4 and under, all buckled into car seats in the back of my small SUV, and thinking how late we were going to be for swim class because just releasing them from all the car seats would take 5 minutes. They were all screaming about something. One wanted to drape her leg over another’s seat, sending that one into a terrorized frenzy, while the one on the other side of the middle covered his ears and screamed at me to make them stop yelling.
I wanted to yell, too. But I took a deep breath and clutched the steering wheel a little tighter. We were almost there. They could scream a little longer.
I was just about right on the timing of the car seat unbuckling, and then it took a few more minutes to shuttle everyone safely through the parking lot, two giant bags of gear draped over one arm while the other grasped the two-year-old’s hand tightly. The oldest was already proclaiming that he wasn’t going to get in the pool and the other two whined that they were hungry. Inside, the class of senior citizen women who were exiting the pool were visibly annoyed that we were standing there making noise before we took their place in the water.
As I stood there, stumbling miserably through that scenario, I wished I had just stayed home. But I had decided a few weeks earlier that huddling up in my house with these kids for the next few years was not an option. I was going to brave adventures like swimming lessons, and the grocery store, and even sit-down restaurants if my husband and I were really craving steak and couldn’t find a sitter. These stairstep kids of mine — ages 4, 3, and 2 — were just going to have to learn how to behave like humans, or I was just going to have to adjust to the prying eyes focused on my unique band of misfits and shrug it off. At that point, I really didn’t care which outcome took place. I was too exhausted to give a damn.
It’s really hard having kids close in age, or multiples, when they are in those early childhood years.
No one can do anything for his or herself, everyone cries a lot, no one wants to eat (until you’ve cleaned up the entire kitchen, and then everyone is hungry), epic meltdowns often come without warning, and they have little people their own size to pick on constantly. It’s a challenge to put out proverbial fires during all your waking hours and attend to at least ONE every night who wakes up from a nightmare or simply wants your company. Having kids close in age feels harder than it should — and so you question your parenting prowess.
There are too many kids with too many needs and not enough hands to help them. You want them to learn things like manners, and cleaning up, and how to do basic meal preparation tasks, but it’s so much easier to just do all of those things yourself, so you usually do. When strangers comment that the latest unhappy one must “need a nap” you want to punch them. Of course she needs a nap. We all need a damn nap. But between two preschool pickups and the fact that the only thing in the fridge is mustard and baking soda, we are here at the grocery store spending a billion dollars that we don’t have on organic vegetables and chicken instead of taking a nap.
My point here (if you’ve missed it) is that having several children who are a year or less apart is taxing in those early years. The good news, fellow parents, is that there is a light at the end of that tunnel. I’ve lived through those precious preschool years having kids close in age, with three (and then four) little ones underfoot. I survived and I’m here to tell you that it gets easier — and better.
Those original three kids are now ages 9, 8 and nearly 7. The new “littles” in the house are my 4-year-old and 18-month-old daughters. They are just starting to play with each other more often, and the fighting is directly correlated. Half the time they love each other, and half the time they are screaming at each other. I’m rarely bothered by it, though. Two kids is a totally different world than three kids, and my older kids actually act as buffers, diffusing the fights and splitting up the littles to do different tasks.
Recently I packed up my now five kids and drove an hour to the Walt Disney World complex to meet up with a friend and her family at a hotel. My husband was working so it was just me and the kiddos. I guess I’m still a sucker for adventurous (stupid) tasks that I take on alone.
From the time we parked our minivan, loaded up the stroller, walked the length of Disney Springs (stopping in stores to check out the overpriced merchandise), waited for a boat to the hotel, rode that boat, found the pool and my friend, played in the pool, got out to dry off and get all our shoes on and then go eat dinner with said friends, got back in the pool, got back out and packed to leave, rode the boat back, walked the length of Disney Springs in reverse, stopped in the Lego Store (why not?), loaded everyone in car seats, folded up the stroller, got everyone something to drink before leaving, and then hit the road to head home — all the kids were great.
My two littlest had a few trying moments but recovered quickly. My three oldest? Pfft. They behaved. Listened. Helped me. Helped my friend with her kids. Stuck together in line for the water slide. Understood when I said we couldn’t afford anything in the Star Wars store. Basically, they acted like the humans I dreamed they would become 5 years ago.
Driving home in a dark, quiet van with all my precious cargo snoozing, I thought back to those early days as a combined family. I thought about that first summer when I wanted desperately for my kids to blend well, to get along, and to come out on the other side of divorce/remarriage as happy, loving people. Back then, I would have never dreamed that the day we just had would be possible. Those three, and then two more? Here I was, driving home with all of them and I wasn’t even twitching, or rushing to my house to get a cold beer (though my husband chilled one for me, and I did drink it).
It was a day when I got to see one of the dearest friends of my lifetime, and hug her kids, and shake hands with her husband — and actually ENJOY it because my older kids were able to entertain each other, and stick together, and work as a team to keep the little ones happy, too. Having kids close in age, for once, was an advantage. I would have never predicted such a day was possible back in those early days of my close-in-age kids, before they started exercising more independence and more reliance on each other than on their parents. Never.
Yet, with more clarity than ever, I see the blessing of having children who are close in age. I can’t speak to the challenge of back-to-back pregnancies, as two of my three close-in-age ones are not biological, but I can speak to what I see in front of me today: built-in playmates, confidants, and travelers through childhood. They go to the same school, often have the same teachers a year apart, know the same friends, pour out their hearts to each other when certain kids hurt their feelings (and often get lots of sympathy for it), share the same vacation stories, get excited about the same activities (it used to be the beach playground, today it’s actually wading in the waves), and return to each other after weekends with the other halves of their families with many stories to share. They tell each other much more than they tell me (and thankfully haven’t figured out that I eavesdrop just yet) and even though they still fight, there’s an undercurrent of closeness I never deemed possible.
There’s a lot of debate out there about the perfect time to have children, and the perfect age gap, and the perfect age for moms to be pregnant. None of my kids or pregnancies have fit those perfection standards and yet here we are, still standing and life is getting sweeter every day. There is no perfect age gap for having kids — only a perfect standard for each individual family.
If you had kids close in age on purpose or on accident, and are reading this as you hide out in your kitchen pantry and eat frosting from a jar while World War III rages outside the door, know this: you made the right choice, however you arrived at your particular family dynamic. Those little monsters are growing up with the best friends they’ll ever have in the same stages of life. Someday they’ll get along. And then they won’t. But then they will again. It gets easier, and better, having kids close in age.
One day you’ll take them all someplace and no one will throw a tantrum, and no one will smart mouth you, and no stranger will tell you that they need a nap. One day your shoulders won’t ache because you won’t be carrying any bags full of gear because your kids will have them draped over their shoulders, and your hands will be free to tune the car radio because the bigger kids can buckle their own car seats and seat belts, and your head won’t pound because the kids will be too busy talking to each other to ask you for a thousand things. Having kids close in age won’t seem like such an insane idea anymore.
I’m not going to tell you to cherish these early childhood moments with your close-in-age kids because you’ll miss them later — you probably won’t because you’ll be so in love with the newer, older versions of your kids. I will say this, though: having kids close in age comes with plenty of perks, you just may need to wait a few years to see it.
Did you decide having kids close in age was for you? What are your thoughts?
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Tags: combined families